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The State Journal- Register (Springfield, IL)


When he received the initial phone call from Lutheran High School athletic director Katie McCulley last fall, Jacksonville Routt Catholic athletic director and football coach Heath Wilson admitted he was caught off guard by McCulley's question.

Would Routt be interested in having Lutheran student-athletes come to Jacksonville — a 29-mile trip from Springfield's far west side — for a co-op football program between the private schools?

Routt has struggled with its number of football players in recent years. Wilson said it's been in the mid-20s on average, and the lack of depth has coincided with struggles on the field.

Routt is a combined 8-46 the last six campaigns and hasn't made the playoffs since 2011.

So Wilson was more than willing to listen after the initial surprise wore off.

"Originally, I thought it was a little shocking they had interest in playing, plus the mileage to come over here," said Wilson, who's in his fifth year at Routt.

"But I was also excited they reached out to us. And our schools are very similar. Our numbers haven't been the greatest, but we've still had football. Then this came up. I though it would be a good fit for our school, and it would give (Lutheran's) kids an opportunity to play."

The proposed co-op, which would be hosted by Routt beginning next season, is still subject to the approval of the schools' respective conferences: Routt in the Western Illinois Valley and Lutheran in the MSM.

For practical purposes, it would affect only the WIVC. The MSM is not a football conference, although some of its members play in other football leagues.

The Illinois High School Association also must approve the program, which would play under the banner of the Routt Rockets.

The vast majority of co-op sports programs in Illinois involve public schools. According to the IHSA website, Routt was the only non-boundaried school outside of Chicago that was involved in a football co-op last fall.

A Routt-Lutheran co-op would be within IHSA guidelines, which require actual enrollments (not including private-school multipliers) of no more than 200 for the participating schools. Routt's listed enrollment this year is 132, while Lutheran's is 160.

There is no set geographic limit for co-op partners, with the requirement they only be "in the same geographic area."

McCulley said the football idea took hold within the last few years. She noted that Glenn Rollins, in his third year as Lutheran principal, previously had worked at several Lutheran schools that had football programs.

"I think (Rollins) coming to Lu Hi started the (football) conversation," McCulley said. "It hadn't really been brought up before.

"We thought no other (Springfield) schools would take us in a co-op. Glenn said maybe we could think about Routt or Decatur Lutheran.

"Routt was the obvious choice, with us being on the west side and Routt's location."

Wilson met with interested Lutheran players and their parents in January, and he was encouraged by the turnout. Approximately 15 students attended, which did not include incoming freshmen next fall.

Wilson said five of the students said they had played organized football previously. Some of the parents also had football experience and expressed interest in helping with the program.

McCulley said most of the players would be bussed to Routt for practices. The Rockets play their home games at Illinois College.

Routt has had a football co-op with Jacksonville Westfair Academy the past five years, and there is one more year left in their current agreement. But Gibson said Routt usually has gotten just one player from Westfair (enrollment 29) each year, and Routt will evaluate that agreement after next season.

When schools co-op in a sport, their enrollments are combined to determine classification for IHSA state series play. Routt and Lutheran's combined enrollment of 292 would keep the Rockets in Class 1A if they make the playoffs.

With private-school multipliers factored in, Routt is at 217 and Lutheran 264. The combined total of 481 would put the Rockets in the Class 3A range for football playoffs.

But because the Rockets have not made the playoffs for several years, the IHSA success factor would allow Routt to waive the multiplier and remain — with Lutheran — at 292 for at least the 2018 season.

Contact Dave Kane: 788-1544,,

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March 6, 2018


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